Loose parts play is a perfect way to bring play-based learning into your home, classroom, or homeschool experience. Loose parts play involves giving children a variety of open-ended materials to explore. This type of play is unstructured and encourages children to use their imaginations.

What is Loose Parts Play?

The term “loose parts” can be used for a varitey of objects including sticks, stones, blocks, household objects, craft supplies and so much more. The goal is to pick objects that can be easily moved, manipulated, and used in a variety of ways.

This type of play allows children to experiment with different ideas. They are able to build, construct, and explore with the materials. This encourages taking risks, problem-solving, spatial awareness, and even social skills when done with others.

Loose parts play can be done indoors or outdoors and the structure provided can vary based on the needs of the teacher and children. It is often used in early childhood settings but kids (and adults) of any age can benefit from loose parts play. It is important to provide children with a variety of materials that are age-appropriate, open-ended, and flexible. Safety and choking hazards should be considered when selecting materials. Children should be given the freedom to explore and create in their own way.

How are materials chosen for loose parts play?

When selecting materials for loose parts play, you should consider if the objects are open-ended, flexible, and safe for children to use. There are no set rules for loose parts play but there are some tips that can help when selecting materials.

Consider where the play experience will take place.

Will it be indoors or outdoors? Every setting lends itself to different objects. Rocks, sticks, and leaves might be good materials for an outside setting while an indoor setting lends itself to cups, craft sticks, and small figures.

Make it age-appropriate and safe.

Think about the age of the children that will be engaging in the play experience. This will guide you when picking objects that are safe for play. Keep with objects that are safe and age appropriate by considering choking hazards, materials, and pointy edges. Younger children need larger manipulatives while older children can play safely with small objects.

Select a variety of loose parts.

It’s important to consider the variety of the objects you’re setting out for the children. Are they open-ended? Can they be played with in a variety of ways? This isn’t the time for noisy objects that guide a child through the play. This is the time for blocks, sticks, boxes, fabric scraps, and more. Objects that allow for creativity are key with loose parts play.

Remember every child is different and age is only a guideline. Think about the children that will be using the materials and what you know about them and their temperment. The goal of loose parts play is to provide children with a variety of objects that can inspire creativity and allow for open-ended exploration and play.

How do you set up the materials?

Setting up for loose parts play can be fun and simple. After selecting the materials for play, you’ll want to consider how you’re going to set it up. You want the set up to be inviting and engaging for the children. Here are a few steps to make that easier.

Choose a location.

Determine whether the play will take place inside or outside. Then, select a spot that is safe and appropriate for the materials you’ve chosen. The space should be large enough for the number of children in attendance.

Gather materials.

If you haven’t alread, bring all of your materials to the selected location. Seeing them all together can help you think through how to set them up. Make sure you’re including a variety of objects that are age and location appropriate.

Set up the play space.

This is the time to decide how the space will look. You want the objects to be easily accessible and at the child’s level. You can use baskets, trays, or other containers to make this easier. For a less structured set up, you can spread the objects out on a blanket or rug.

Add accessories.

You can extend the play and learning opportunities by adding accessores such as magnifying glasses, tape, and other tools. These items can encourage child to observe and record their play while interacting with the objects in a new way. These accessories can be added at the beginning or introduced later on in the play experience to extend the learning.

What is the role of the parent or teacher?

As a parent or teacher, it can be challenging to understand your role in loose parts play. This type of play is very child led but there is a role for the parent or teacher as well.

Introduce the materials.

You want to introduce the materials without telling the children exactly how to use them. You want them to use their imagination after all. Encourage them to experiment and explore the materials. This is a good time to talk about safety and expectations as well.

Be a supportive observer.

While you want the children to explore the materials at their own pace, you also don’t want to completely abandon them. Hang out nearby to be support when it’s needed. Support might be giving them a prompt or answering a question about the materials at hand. It’s best to remain an observer until you’re needed or invited by the child. This will allow for more creativity and independent problem-solving.

Keep the play safe.

Even though you’ve discussed safety and expectations with the children, things can still go awry. Your role as a facilitator of play is to keep everyone safe and remind them of the expectations as needed. It is important to intervene when safety is a concern.

Why should you include loose parts play?

Loose parts play is a valuable type of play that offers many benefits for children of all ages. It encourages children to discover (or rediscover) and explore materials while playing and learning. This takes imagination and encourages creativity.

While engaging in loose parts play, children are developing problem-solving skills and encouraging creativity. When done with others, it also encourages social and emotional development.

This type of play is open-ended and adaptable to a variety of lessons. You can enhance any topic with this child led experience. It’s definitely worth exploring and including in your home or classroom.

Loose parts play is a beneficial child led experience.